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Isabela Moner, Eva Longoria Celebrate Latinx Representation in ‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold’

Isabela Moner Eva Longoria
NINA PROMMER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

“It was amazing,” Isabela Moner said of playing beloved animated character Dora the Explorer at the world premiere of the live-action movie adaptation, “Dora and the Lost City of Gold.” “I’m half Peruvian so the opportunity to be able to represent at this level is unheard of. Peru is never mainstream unless it’s for the hippies that go to Machu Picchu, so to be able to represent like this is just insane to me.”

Moner, who learned the indigenous Peruvian language, Quechua, while prepping to portray the hyper-intelligent Dora, is excited to see how the film will be received by Latin American audiences, especially the Peruvian community. “I want to push for a premiere in Peru and if they are not going to have one themselves, I’ll probably just go and do my own little event,” Moner said on the jungle-themed green carpet at L.A. Live in Los Angeles on Sunday. “I’m going there to work with UNICEF soon and that’s around the time that the movie comes out so hopefully it works out.”

Featuring a teenage Latina lead and an almost all-Latinx cast, “Dora” is already being hailed for promoting representation among blockbuster releases. Michael Peña, who stars as Dora’s father in the film, told Variety, “It’s a reason to do this kind of movie. Number one, it’s going to be a fun movie and people are going to like it, but number two, 24 years ago when I started acting, this would have never happened. There was no big-budget movie that I know of that any Latin person was even starring in. It’s cool that this is just kind of normal now in a way but for me, it’s especially satisfying.”

Director James Bobin is hoping that story changes made during the adaptation process, which includes aging up Dora from a 6-year-old to a teenager, will appeal to a broader audience while still resonating with the Nickelodeon cartoon’s fanbase. “When I read the script, I realized that they (writers Nicolas Stoller and Matthew Robinson) were doing a very clever thing by making her the same person now at sixteen as she was at six. It’s a charming way of getting into the movie and there were so many great opportunities for comedy. She’s grown up with the audience but she hasn’t changed, even if they have, and that’s kind of great.”

Eva Longoria said she was surprised to discover Dora the Explorer’s international popularity when she first signed on to play Dora’s mother in the movie. “I thought she was an icon for the Hispanic community but she’s global,” she told Variety. “She taught English all over the world and people were learning Spanish through her. The representation matters. The fact that it’s authentically an all-Latino cast matters and I’m so proud to be part of this project in that way.”

Longoria recalled that seeing iconic singer Selena perform was the first time she saw someone who looked like her represented in entertainment. “I don’t remember a lot of that representation growing up,” she said. “It was Selena. Not the movie, not Jennifer Lopez, the performer. Because I’m from Corpus [Christi, Texas] so I would watch her and go to her concerts and I was like, ‘Wow!’”

The star, who is set to make her feature-film directorial debut with the female comedy “24/7” co-starring Kerry Washington, also discussed the current landscape for female directors in Hollywood. “I hope it’s changing. Cannes was the first time that they had 50/50 submissions for directors and that made me happy. But if you look at feature films on this scale, blockbusters, we are not moving fast enough.”

For Longoria, the key is not just awareness but access. “We have to educate gatekeepers who are making these decisions that women are just as talented and just as profitable as male directors,” she explained. “But not only educate the gatekeepers, change the gatekeepers. We have to replace them. Get those women in executive positions. And once a woman is there, make sure she’s held accountable in pulling others up. Because there are some women in executive positions that aren’t doing a whole lot and we need to make sure that they do.”